Sure, he was the right guy in the right situation, but this was almost a fail-safe proposition.
The bases were loaded with none out and all Jason Shanahan had to do was put the ball in play. Anywhere, practically. This was kid-in-the-candy-store time.
"It's a great time to hit," Shanahan said. "You can almost screw up and win it."
He put the thumbscrews to San Diego State by hitting a single to drive home the winning run in the 10th inning and give Cal State Northridge a 10-9 victory in another tension-filled Western Athletic Conference game at Matador Field.
Screw up? Unlikely that Shanahan, the Northridge first baseman, would do any such thing.
The red-hot junior had three hits, including a solo home run, and drove in three runs as the Matadors (24-24, 12-8 in conference play) closed to within one-half game of the first-place Aztecs (29-29, 11-6) in the WAC's West Division. Northridge has four games left; the Aztecs seven.
In Friday's 7-6 victory, Shanahan contributed a key single as Northridge broke through to win in the 12th. To the surprise of no one on the Northridge bench, he again came through a day later.
"He's on one of those uphill-type development spurts," Northridge Coach Bill Kernen said. "Sometimes this can happen pretty fast, in a few days or a few weeks, and a guy can improve pretty dramatically."
Emphasis on dramatic.
In 20 WAC games, Shanahan is batting .452 (38 for 84) with six homers and 28 runs batted in. He has hit safely in a career-high 15 consecutive games.
The pivotal 10th was almost an instant replay of Friday's final inning. It was the same Matador foursome--Steve Moreno, Eric Gillespie, Joey Arnold and Shanahan--who put the game away.
Leading off against right-handed reliever Mark Gapski, Moreno singled to center and moved to second when Gillespie walked. Right fielder Steve Rushford, a left-hander, was brought in to face Arnold, who bats from the left side.
Rushford was a familiar sight. He came in from right field to face the switch-hitting Shanahan with runners at first and third and two out in the eighth.
How good are things going for Shanahan? Batting from the right side, he grounded out to short--but only after Rushford wild-pitched a run home from third to give Northridge a 9-8 lead. Rushford returned to right in the ninth.
Though the Aztecs tied the score in the ninth, it didn't go much better for Rushford in the 10th. Arnold singled sharply to right to load the bases and Shanahan, again batting right-handed, whacked a high curveball down the third-base line to drive in Moreno with the game-winner.
Using Rushford might not have been the greatest decision. Shanahan, batting .363 overall, is hitting .413 from the right side. With all the Aztec pitching moves--four changes were made over the final four innings--Shanahan didn't seem too sure who he burned for the game-winning hit. But then, does it matter?
"I was wondering who was going to bounce where (in the Aztec lineup)," Shanahan said.
This is fast becoming a story about bouncing back. With a victory in today's 1 p.m. series finale, the Matadors can, almost unbelievably, move into first place.
This from an injury-riddled team held together with plaster casts and bandages. Like Shanahan's game-winning at-bat, this too is a no-lose situation.
That is, Northridge can't afford to lose.
"This is where we wanted to be," Shanahan said. "Realistically, though, we're in the same situation as Friday. We've got to win."